Friday, June 23, 2006

Iran War: The good news and the not-so-good news

"God may smile on us, but I don't think so." - anonymous Pentagon adviser quoted by Seymour Hersh April 2006 on Bush administration plans to pressure Iran militarily

Gareth Porter lays out the good news in Strategy Paper Reveals Bush Won't Attack Iran Inter Press Service 06/20/06.

Based on his reading of the 2006 version of the National Security Strategy and a speech about it at the time of its release in March by National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, he argues that the policy is focused on "regime change" in Teheran, and not on stopping Iran's nuclear program.

He also argues that the current policy of supporting the Security Council negotiations is based on a pragmatic realization that Iran's nuclear program, in the worst case, won't produce a nuclear weapon while Bush's Presidential term runs:

A report by David Sanger in the New York Times Mar. 19 quoting an administration official in an interview a few weeks earlier further underlines the administration's decision against using force to prevent Iran from going nuclear.

"The reality is that most of us think the Iranians are probably going to get a weapon, or the technology to make one, sooner or later," the official was quoted as saying. The hope, according to the official, was that by the time it happened, "We'll have a different relationship with a different Iranian government."

The official said the "optimists" hoped to delay the Iran's nuclear capability by "10 or 20 years". That statement clearly inflated the time administration officials believe it would take Iran to be able to make a nuclear weapon. Intelligence estimates have consistent estimated Iran capable of building a bomb within five to 10 years.

But the Bush administration will only be in office for another two and a half years, so it knows that Iran will not go nuclear on its watch.

That's the good news.  The bad news is that they are plenty of Iran hawks among the administrator's neoconservative supporters.   And we just this week have had some new saber-rattling on Iran:  General Reports Spike in Iranian Activity in Iraq by Thomas Ricks
Washington Post 06/23/06.  Ricks reports:

Other U.S. officials have complained about Iranian meddling in Iraq, but the criticism of Tehran by Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr. was the most direct and explicit so far. Speaking at a Pentagon news conference before an array of reporters and television cameras, the general listed Iranian influence as one of the four major problems he faces in Iraq.

"We are quite confident that the Iranians, through their covert special operations forces, are providing weapons, IED technology and training to Shia extremist groups in Iraq, the training being conducted in Iran and in some cases probably in Lebanon through their surrogates," Casey said, using the military abbreviation for "improvised explosive devices," or roadside bombs. The Iranians are "using surrogates to conduct terrorist operations in Iraq, both against us and against the Iraqi people."

While lots of things that happen in politics and war don't ncessarily make sense, this charge doesn't make total sense to me.  I don't doubt the part about Iran providing traning for Shi'a groups in Iraq.  But why would Iran support insurgents fighting against the Shi'a-dominated government?   Iran has generally supported the Iraqi government.  The US is helping the Shi'a government battle Sunni insurgents.  At this point, it's hard to see what Iran's interest would be in undermining the Shi's government of Iraq.

Juan Cole also has his doubts about this latest report:

The Lebanese Hizbullah denied on Thursday that it had any links to the Iraqi insurgency. The American charges in this regard puzzle me. Hizbullah is not helping the fiercely Sunni Arab guerrillas in the center-north and west. In the Shiite south, there are many Iraqi groups that would like to attack coalition forces, and they don't need Lebanese encouragement. If the US has captured Lebanese Hizbullah in Iraq, it should reveal their names and the circumstances of their arrest.

Ray McGovern also looks at the more pessimistic possibilities in Next Victim: Iran or North Korea? by Ray McGovern 06/22/06:

The question today is whether that war-decision-then-intelligence sequence remains in effect as President Bush's advisers weigh whom to attack next. This is hardly a frivolous question. As the president's poll numbers sink and the embarrassment of Iraq rises, Vice President Dick Cheney, defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld and presidential adviser Karl Rove no doubt are trying to choose the best way to enable Bush to polish his favorite image as "war president" in order to stem Republican losses in the mid-term elections this November. There are only two countries left in the "axis of evil." Which will it be: Iran or North Korea? ...

My best guess is that the [neocons] McInerneys and Adelmans, together with Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rove, will continue to have the ear of the otherwise inattentive president. And Rove may turn out to be the preeminent player in this, whether Iran or North Korea is chosen as the US target. For the synthetic urgency attached to these threats is a creature of the November election. The president will want to burnish his image as "war president" again, and the blue-uniformed McInerneys and Adelmans of this world are likely to second the Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal and persuade the president of the need for a September or October surprise. Hold onto your hats.

Also, the Rove gambit for the Republicans of coming out hard in defense of "more of the same" in the Iraq War would make more sense if its part of a buildup to an "attack Iran" campaign.  And if that's the case, we would expect to start hearing complaints of how much Iran is interfering in Iraq.  Kind of like Gen. Casey's declaration quoted above.

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